With their handful of Big Ten recruits and at least one potential major leaguer, Southridge's Raiders were the on-paper high school baseball favorite going into Saturday afternoon's Class 2A Jasper Semistate.
Yet the Raiders left nothing to chance, taking a deep dive into their bag of tricks to overcome South Vermillion in a game closer than the 7-0 final score.
Wildcat pitchers were untouched in five of the seven innings Saturday, helped by some good defensive plays behind them.
But Southridge bunted its way into a three-run third-inning rally and got near-perfect pitching from sophomore Ethan Bell in earning its second trip to Victory Field in as many years.
A one-out bunt single in the top of the first brought up the Southridge power hitters, but Connor VanLannen struck out two of them — including sophomore star Colson Montgomery — to strand two baserunners.
Joe LaGrange hit the first pitch in the top of the second to the left-center gap — for what was to be the only hard-hit ball off VanLannen all day — but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double thanks to a quick barehand pickup and throw by Keegan Mackey to Cooper Terry and Terry's relay to Blake Boatman at second. VanLannen finished off the rest of the inning without incident.
Back to the top of their order for the third, however, the Raiders bunted immediately. VanLannen bounced off the mound but seemed to lose his footing as he throw, and the ball went down the right-field line. A second straight bunt went for a single, a walk loaded the bases, and Chase Taylor dumped a soft single into right field for two runs.
A run-scoring balk and a walk ended VanLannen's stint on the mound, but he came up with an unassisted double play at third base moments later when the Raiders popped up a squeeze attempt.
Isaac Wanninger held the visitors scoreless for the next two innings, but Bell was on his way to retiring the first 15 Wildcat hitters — usng just 45 pitches in five innings.
"He threw pretty hard, with good offspeed [stuff], but that's no excuse," South Vermillion's Layne Vicars said later. "We should've hit him better."
"All that open [space], nine people, and I hit it right to them," said Cooper Terry, who lined out twice.
"We hit him all right," added Bryce McLeish, "but we just didn't square anything up. We couldn't find holes and we couldn't hit it hard enough to get through people."
It was still a game at that point, however, and it still was with two out in the top of the sixth. A tough error followed by a walk had opened the inning, but Mackey and Boatman combined to throw out a runner at the plate on a hit by Camden Gasser and Montgomery was retired on a harmless fly to left.
The next three Raiders had hits, however, including a two-run double by Bell, and now the deficit was seven runs. Although freshman Jaxon Mullins broke up Bell's perfect game with a sixth-inning single, the Wildcats were too far behind.
"It's tough, but we were here," coach Tim Terry said afterward. "I told [the Wildcats] 'the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.'
"These kids accomplished a lot," the coach continued. "They won the Banks [of the Wabash Tournament], the sectional, the regional . . . they brought me farther than I've ever been [on the tournament trail]. And they're such good kids, that's the hardest part [to seeing the season end]. I'm awful proud of them."
McLeish, Cooper Terry, Vicars and designated hitter Spencer Lewis were the only 2019 graduates among the Wildcats.
"I think we're going out as one of the best teams [to play at South Vermillion]," Vicars said. "We've all been together a long time, so going out with these other seniors is the best feeling."
"I think we brought a winning situation," said Lewis. "Our freshman year we weren't great, but the last couple years we've been gaining some success: three 20-win seasons, two sectionals, a regional title.
"This is something we can hang our hats on; we did our best every time," Lewis added. "I've been playing with these seniors since we were 4, in coach-pitch. It's been an awesome ride."
"No doubt coach Terry is building a dynasty with South Vermillion baseball," said Cooper Terry. "Four years, 85 wins, three conference titles. I'm real proud of what we were able to do."
"I wanted something different. I wanted to build a team, a family, not just win games," added McLeish, who felt that goal was accomplished. "That meant more to me than just winning games."
"We only could have played one more game," coach Terry concluded. "We were in the final four in the state, and that's something to be awful proud of."
Cooper Terry, the next-to-youngest of Tim Terry's sons — this year's student manager, Easton Terry, will be a freshman player next year — was reminded Saturday that it wasn't necessary for him to call his father "coach Terry" anymore.
"I think I'm stuck calling him that," was Cooper's answer.